Disclosure of Personal Information On-line and the Occurrence of Identity Theft
Identification is a critical and common process which we encounter on a regular basis as we carry out our daily activities. Companies, government agencies and institutions routinely ask individuals for personal information in order to help identify a specific individual from another. In the past, people have relied upon face-to-face exchange of information and identity verification but with the recent explosion of the Internet this system has become relatively obsolete. Personal information that had previously been stored in file cabinets in secure locations is now easily collected and stored on databases. Does this fast and efficient system violate the security of our personal information? Is our personal information and basic identifying data truly secure on the net?
Irwin Winkler’s movie “The Net” illustrates the type of problems that can arise if an individual’s personal information falls into the wrong hands. Winkler’s main character, Angela Bennett, played by Sandra Bullock, fell victim to identity theft as her personal information and key identify data were stolen and used in order to exchange her identity with another.1 Although the plot of the movie seems a little far-fetched, identity theft by means of the Internet is a serious and common problem that occurs frequently in real life.
How do we identify ourselves on the Internet?
In the virtual realm of the Internet physical means for identification verification are relatively non-existent since it requires specific technology, such as biometrics, which is not widely used. Instead the most common methods for identity verification basically involve the use of a password, account number or similar identifying data. For example, an individual, in most cases, can gain access to personal bank information by simply typing in an account number and password. Access, is, in fact, granted to anyone who knows this key identifying information.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when someone gains access to a person’s basic information, including name, address, and credit card or social insurance number, and uses that information to open bank accounts, order merchandise, borrow money or take over one’s personal identity.2 For example, Adam S. Marlin of CNN interviewed a family physician that had recently been a victim of identity theft. Ignacio Ramirez of San Diego, California, received a telephone call last February from a Boston medical-equipment supplier demanding $85,000 for purchased medical supplies. Ramirez, himself, did not make these purchases. Weeks later he was to learn that he had, in fact, been a victim of identity theft. A woman had obtained Ramirez’s personal information from the Internet. She was able to obtain crucial identification information which included Ramirez’s medical license identification...